As a writer, I tend to glom onto things that many readers, at least consciously, don’t care about when they read – a perfect word choice, the rhythm of a sentence, the way a writer wraps up a paragraph. That last one – the “closing sentence” of a paragraph in the language I teach my students – is C. M. Mayo’s greatest gift in her book about Baja California – Miraculous Air.
In this part travelogue, part history, part memoir, Mayo takes a trip from the Mexico/U.S. border down to the tip of Baja, Cabo San Lucas. On her journey she encounters gross poverty, spectacular beaches, environmental tragedies, and compelling people. The story is itself is captivating.
But for me, it’s her closing sentences that make the book worthwhile. Take these paragraphs about visiting a painter named Paulino Perez in La Paz on Bahia de la Paz, on the Sea of Cortes:
The walls of his studio are covered with his paintings, all of them of things submerged in water: a shark, a fish, a hand, two swimmers, the light playing on their bodies like tangles of ropes. Paulino is fascinated by the water; he always has been. When he was small, he would put his had in the washtub and look back up at the surface, shimmering like a layer of mercury. As a teenager, he took up skin diving. It always attracted him, the way light moves through water.
“It’s very fast. Things appear, disappear. You don’t see anything, and then all of a sudden: a whale! You see bubbles, a whole cloud of bubbles, then nothing. And colors–” he is on the edge of his chair now, waving his hands, his face pinkly glistening in the heat, the harsh bright light of the lamps– “in the sea there are thousands of colors.”
Mayo’s language is so simple just descriptive, and she has a masterful way of weaving in other’s stories and words to tell her own tale. Pick it up if you’re looking for a good story, a good model, or just a chance to escape to Baja.